A of Romance by The Star*
I spotted the vultures circling the draw. Curious, I turned my in
that direction. Probably a deer had been caught by coyotes.
What I saw turned my stomach.
A mare and a colt were lying at the edge of a small clearing, their
bodies distended with the gasses of decomposition. We'd just turned them
out into the south range a few days before. Both had been healthy and
frisky--and the colt showed unusual early promise. Now they were both
The big birds lumbered off at my approach--but not too far. I wouldn't
be taking their dinner anywhere. And I wouldn't be staying.
Both had been shot. Close to $200,000 worth of horseflesh,
wasted by a deer hunter, trespassing on posted land.
The ground didn't show much by way of tracks. The grass was long and
green. Any sign of someone passing through it would have been eradicated
within a day. I looked for a place where a hunter might have waited--and
finally found it, and the casings from a couple of rifle bullets. That was
odd... I couldn't identify the rounds, right off.
A little more work, and I found a spot where a large, 4-wheel drive
vehicle had parked. It had to have 4-wheel traction to get where it had
been. And there was an oil stain, from a leaky seal, on the grass and
dirt. The tires had been large, 'all terrain' types.
I was supposed to be checking on the horses in the south range. Well,
I'd better see if this varmint was still around, or there wouldn't be any
horses left on the south range. Following the trail of broken sagebrush
and occasional tracks on bare soil, I soon followed him to the county road
that goes through the southern part of the ranch. He'd cut the fence to
get out, but had patched it back.
A thought occurred to me, and I re-patched it, with a special little
twist that I'd recognize. If someone came through there again, I'd be able
to tell. An hour later, I found where he'd done the same, coming onto the
ranch, and again put in my 'tell-tale'.
Then I rode home.
Home is the ranch headquarters for our spread, the Steele Ranch, about
twenty miles south of Sisters, Oregon. Surrounded by the Willamette
National Forest, we have grazing rights on roughly 60,000 acres of forest
land, in addition to the 58,000 acres we own outright. My great-granddad
had 'filed' on the ranch before the national forest system existed, which
was how we managed to be a private in the Forest Service donut.
When I was a kid, growing up on the ranch, we were thirty miles of bad
gravel road from Sisters, but the county and state had teamed up to put in
a new chip-seal road that made it lots easier to get to town. We had hopes
that someday we'd also have a better route to Bend, which was really
closer, as the crow flies. That way we could get to a 'real city' for
shopping or an occasional night on the town.
Our ranch had three houses, as well as a bunkhouse for the single
cowboys, and a big trailer that Gerry, our only hand, lived in.
The 'big house' was grandma's place, though Audry and I were taking it
over, with grandma's enthusiastic connivance. Our son, Zack, was the apple
of grandma's eye and she wanted him right there where he could be spoiled
and dad had a home of their own, a couple of hundred yards to the
southwest. And Uncle Rick and Aunt Elin, Audry's folks, lived in a house a
few hundred yards north.
Grandma said Audry and I needed our own place, and she had plenty of
room--and wouldn't be around forever either. (I don't believe that. That
remarkable woman will outlive us all, and be a randy slut 'till the day
she drops.) Steele ranch is not the usual operation for eastern Oregon.
That is, we don't raise Herefords and pigs, growing alfalfa hay if we have
enough water, and wheat with whatever allotment we can get.
Rather, we grow hay for our own use, and raise Black Angus breeding
stock and show horses as our sources of income.
Our horses are world famous--among those who really know the competition
equestrian scene. We breed and train horses for the arena events, dressage
and jumping, as well as the grueling three-day event. One of our horses
can easily bring $100,000--the best ones three or more times that. If the
horse is not up to mom's standards, it is sold into the riding stable
market, after being gelded if a colt. The mares aren't 'fixed', they just
aren't registered or given 'papers'.
was a world-class equestrienne. Audry and I still are--both of us
having won gold medals in the Olympics. Audry and I know horses, and
riding. has a special gift: She knows when a and rider are right
for each other. She's a hell of a trainer of both and rider, too.
Her gift, really, is the secret to the success Audry and I have enjoyed.
~~ * * * * ~~
Audry came out on the porch, when she heard me ride up, little Zack in
her arms. It was meal-time, and he was greedily away at one of
Audry's lovely breasts.
"Didn't expect you until late tonight, Rob," she said.
After I'd kissed her as thoroughly as I could with the baby between us,
I replied, "I ran into something. Cinder and her colt were shot."
"Oh, no! They were doing so well, too."
"Looks like a deer hunter or poacher. Guy in a big 4x4 cut the fence
and came in, staked out a spot, and banged away at whatever came along.
Cut the fence in a different place to get out."
Audry understood immediately. Since so many 'city people' were buying
the 4x4 'sport utility vehicles', they had to prove their _machismo_ by
running them off road over any land that took their fancy... private,
posted, fenced... none of that seemed to matter any more. And the law
took a dim view of ranchers shooting trespassers.
That night, we told our and grandma what I'd seen. We'd all be
going armed around the ranch again. Rifles on the western saddles, and in
holders just inside doors. Our pickup trucks held gun racks and
they'd have rifles in them, too.
The ranch was 'posted' as plainly as humanly possible. Our boundary
fences had signs every hundred yards, "Private Property. No Hunting. No
Trespassing." We made every effort to get all our stock off the leased
grazing land before deer season started, too.
Even so, we'd get the hunters who were too illiterate to read the signs,
or too arrogant to believe them. When we caught them on the ranch, we'd
make a citizen's arrest, confiscate their weapons and billfolds, and
summarily remove them from our property. If they complained, we'd offer to
hold them for the sheriff to take them to jail. (A couple did. We tied
them up in the barn, and called the sheriff--who sent out a deputy late the
next morning to collect them. They were then carried off to jail, booked,
and released on bail a day later. Of course, they then had to find a way
back to pick up their vehicles, which we left on the county road--locked,
with the keys inside.)
The billfolds were turned over to the sheriff, along with signed
trespass complaints. If they asked for the rifles back, we'd give them to
the sheriff, who gave them to a friendly ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and
Firearms) agent. Otherwise, the rifles stayed on the place--that's how we
got the weapons for inside the doors.
It's not that we weren't friendly, or good neighbors. Anyone who had
the courtesy to come and ask was allowed to hunt on our ranch, if he looked
like he knew the difference between a deer, and a or cow--usually
after being offered a drink, and some advice about where we'd seen the most
deer recently. Several of my fraternity brothers were annual visitors.
We've even had two or three hunting parties at once camping at the spring
in the little draw--about a quarter mile from the house--during deer
season. They could have hunted public land, but they enjoy our place. And
respect our ranch and our stock.
(One of our 'regulars', coming back almost every other year, is a friend
of mom's family, from Virginia. He'd come here to look at a jumper he
wanted to buy for his daughter. The dinner conversation had turned to the
deer season. When he expressed an interest, I took him out, and helped him
'luck' into a huge Mule Deer buck, with eight prongs on each antler. He
was hooked and came back whenever he could.)
That night, Audry welcomed me back home. Even though I'd only been gone
a day, we thought it was fun to have a welcome home celebration whenever
either or both of us had been gone. Truthfully, it was just an excuse to
fuck like minks.
That night, I had a special treat, because I got to suck Zack's
'leftovers' from Audry's delightful breasts.
Her shape had nearly returned to its previous spectacular form. Her
tummy would need another couple weeks of sit-ups, but she'd be there right
away. Her hips were slim as ever. Only her breasts, still feeding our
son, were larger than normal. They were lots of fun in bed, but I knew
they her, bouncing when she went over the jumps.
When I'd finished my snack, we were both breathing heavily and, with
whimpers and little moans, as well as pushes and tugs, Audry pulled me over
her and me in. Though she'd given birth to our son not long before,
she was hot, wet and tight around me. And her muscle tone allowed her to
squeeze me and caress me until I was frantic.
Of course, I'd been petting and kissing everything in reach myself,
latching onto one of those amazing breasts--jutting into the air even when
she was on her back--and for all I was worth.
Audry bucked and convulsed and seemed to try to throw me off her body,
while her legs were wrapped around me, and her heels on my butt were
pulling me in as far as I could go. I couldn't take much of it and fired
that shot right into her, splashing against her cervix, while she shuddered
and came with me.
My mate, my woman... my wife. Audry. For me, there had never been
another, and never would be. Besides being beautiful and a fantastic lay,
she's bright and caring, a great mother, and loving wife.
And usually able to beat me in the arena events!
~~ * * * * * ~~
Losing the mare and her colt was a blow, but the was
philosophical about it.
Until we started losing cows, too.
Then we knew we had a problem.
They all followed the same pattern. Someone cut the fence and drove
onto the ranch, shot up a couple of animals, and left.
Uncle Rick talked with the sheriff.
He obviously didn't have the manpower to patrol our ranch. But he would
put out some feelers about strangers who kept coming back. With the resort
areas at Sisters and Bend and the ski resorts at Mt. Batchelor, it was
hard. We were looking for someone who might stay in one of those, but
wandered around away from the resort in a large 4x4--probably a 3/4 ton to
1 ton pickup.
Meanwhile, I wandered up to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. A good
friend from school, Gary Butler, was on the tribal council and might be
able to help. "Hey, Rob!" he greeted me, when I walked into his office at
the KaNeeTa resort the Indians have built. "Where's Audry?"
"Left her home this trip, Gary," while I pounded his back. We've been
friends a lot of years and don't get to see each other nearly enough. "We
have a son now, you know..."
"Yeah. That's what I heard. Congratulations! With any luck, the
little guy will look like his momma."
"Thanks, toad face. Anyway, I just wanted to touch base on something."
"Next time bring her. Better yet, you stay home and just send her
along. She's not only lots nicer, she's a hell of a lot better looking."
"No argument there--except I wouldn't let her alone around you. Without
me there to protect her..."
We shared a laugh of friendship.
"Rob, you've got to spend the night. Mary will kill me if she doesn't
get to cook you a dinner, at least."
"I dunno, Gary. I kind of said I'd see you and get right home... We
have a bit of trouble going on."
Instantly serious, Gary asked, "What kind of trouble?"
"Well, we've got a poacher. But he only kills, he's not looking for
meat. He's not a rustler, in the normal sense. Just every week, or two,
or three, he comes in and shoots some of our animals."
"That's what we thought at first. But he doesn't shoot at deer. Only
Gary was well aware that our stock wasn't just range beef.
"That's bad," he agreed. "How can I help?"
"We think our guy is a city type. Maybe moved out here, but city bred.
He drives a big 4x4. I think it's a one-ton pickup, but could be wrong.
He seems to come around every couple of weeks--but any day of the week, not
just weekends. And he has a funny rifle." I showed him the brass from one
of the shootings--they'd all been the same.
Gary laughed at that. "Nothing funny about those: Probably the most
common bullet in the world. This came from an AK-47. There are millions
of them. The Russians made them first, then the Chinese, then the
Czechs... Anyway, the weapon and the bullet are real common."
"Oh... Well, what I wanted is that you ask the folks here at KaNeeTa to
keep their eyes open for a repeat customer who drives a big 4x4--and has a
rifle. I'd sure like to find out who this is and why he's picking on
us... Of course, if I could get him to stop, that would be nice, too."
"Yeah. I see that. OK Rob. Come on home. Mary will give you dinner
and a bed and call Audry to explain why you're delayed. We can kick it
around... I'll even feed you some fancy wine while we do." He stopped
grinning, then smiled serenely. "You know I've been on the wagon for the
past three years?"
"Mary told Audry. That's great, Gary. I'm happy for you. In fact,
I'll just drink coffee, if it will be easier?"
"Nah! I'm around alcohol all the time. I'm in charge of the resort
operation for the tribe now. We pump out a lot of booze, believe me. So
giving you a drink won't bother me."
"Super. Let's get over to your place, so Mary can call. Audry has the
sweetest spirit of any woman I've met. But grandma can be a terror, if you
aren't where you're supposed to be."
Laughing, Gary took me home, where Mary pampered me something awful.
"Mary, you're too much! When are you going to leave this ne'er-do-well
and come live with me?"
"Just as soon as you get rid of Audry, Rob!"
We were really good friends. As soon as Mary called Audry to tell her
she wouldn't turn loose of me until the morning, Audry demanded to know
when she was going to bring the kids to the ranch for a visit. After some
more girl-talk, Mary went into her kitchen and started banging things
It was a chance for Gary and me to chat.
"You know, Rob, I have an idea."
"Last one was when you first saw Mary, right?"
Laughing, he said, "How can I concentrate on your problem, when you do
that to me?"
"OK, Gary. It'll be hard, but I'll try to be good."
"ANYway... You know, we have our own Scout program here?"
"No, I hadn't heard about it. No reason to, I suppose."
"We're under the national program, but we're allowed to include our own
cultural stuff, too. It works great. Teaches citizenship and a look at a
whole lot of practical skills--as well as more useful techniques for living
in the woods than most of our kids are taught by their dads."
"The point is, we keep the senior scouts a year longer than normal. We
have a half-dozen 18- and 19-year-old still in our explorer post.
It's a place to hang out and something to do. We use them a lot for search
and rescue in the mountains and the more rugged parts of eastern Oregon.
Occasionally they'll also work on the fire lines, if there is a big forest
"My thought was, maybe I'd lend you these kids for a couple of months.
They can kind of patrol your ranch and see what they can find. You'd have
to feed them--it wouldn't be cheap--and get them to town from time to time,
to see their friends. But it might just be a way to help."
I was enthusiastic. "If they'll help move the cows and horses around
from time to time, we'll even pay them a little." I got a thought of my
own. "If their can work on horseback, they could be part of it...?"
Gary looked disgusted. "You have a really dirty mind, Rob. Our ladies are good girls. They wouldn't want to do anything like that!"
Which prompted a yell from the kitchen: "What time warp have you been
living in, Gary? Rob, only one of those is going with a from off
the reservation and she's from a nearby ranch. All those kids would jump
at the chance. Of course, you'll have to have separate camps for and
girls... to start with..."
I laughed hard. What a solution!
"I had in mind having the kids in pairs. We can start them with together and together. That won't last long, I think. We'll have to
make sure they pay attention to what's going on around them, though."
Mary winked at Gary. "Rob, leave that to me. I'll take care of it."
I gave Mary a big hug, and shook Gary's hand. "OK, friends. Let's
set it up."
The next day I returned to the ranch, and brought the up to date.
Dad and Uncle Rick were enthusiastic about the idea. We'd feed the kids
well, both in provisions for out in the weeds and good food when they were
back at the ranch headquarters.
We brought in a trailer with two nice bedrooms, as a place for them to
sleep on a real bed once in a while. Of course, they could go into town
every week or two, if they would prefer that.
The horses we bred were larger, but a bit more 'refined' than the normal
cow pony. We'd found, though, that the 'culls' from our breeding program
made very good stock horses. So we'd offer to 'pay' the kids with a of their own, from our 'range stock'.
The Warm Springs Indians really do have a strong ethical sense and raise
their kids to high moral standards. However, teenage hormones are teenage
hormones, regardless of race. So Indians seem to marry young... Or maybe
I'm just getting older.
Mary came to visit us a couple days later. She and grandma and Audry
talked at length about what we were trying to do and the 'ins and outs' of
how we'd do things. Then they worked out all the details with Uncle Rick.
All of these kids, including the girls, could shoot. They'd all grown
up hunting deer, and shooting varmints. And they were all well trained to
be careful with firearms, including the idea of not taking a shot if they
weren't sure of the background--that is, where the bullet would impact
eventually. Less than a week after I'd gone up to see Gary, ten kids
assembled at the ranch headquarters. There were six boys, and four girls.
They were all excited about the idea of working for us and really excited
when we told them they could each earn one of our ranch horses for their
Each kid had his own tack and camping gear. And several had brought
their own horses. (That was great. We would use the additional mounts as
pack animals.) We were a bit crowded that evening, when we fed everyone
around grandma's table in the big house and then put them all up in
whatever beds we could find. (Two of the slept in Audry's bed in
Aunt Elin's house and one of the slept in my bed. The rest were
in the trailer, the big house, and the bunkhouse.)
We explained in detail what we were facing and what we wanted them to
do. We wanted to know who was doing this and just what he was doing.
If he could be caught without any danger to the kids, that would be
optimum. However, we stressed that we did not want any of them to put
themselves in any danger whatsoever.
Then we went over a big map of the ranch and divided it up into sectors
for each team.
Right from the beginning, two of the insisted that they be teamed
with their boyfriends. The other two were a team, but their were the team in the sector beside theirs.
The remaining two shrugged and teamed up. They hoped their would join them later.
In the morning, we all went out to the corral, where Uncle Rick had
assembled the 'ranch' horses. Rick had not included horses that he didn't
feel could stand up to the mountains, and the hard work they were likely to
get. The kids were awed.
One of the girls, Kathy, turned to and said, "You're really going to
give me one of these?" nodded. "Wow! My brothers will turn green!"
The kids walked into the corral and chose a each. Kathy led a
couple around, and looked closely at several before she chose one. I
agreed with her choice, a big mare, with a strong build and gentle though
roguish disposition. That would carry her rider all day, through any
kind of country.
Everybody saddled up, loaded up the pack horses, and headed out. Since
we knew the ranch best, each team had one of us along to show them their
territory. Our hand Gerry, Uncle Rick, Dad, and I, each led a team of
kids. We'd stay out for two days and show them their boundaries, and the
landmarks to keep track of. Our other two hands were mostly in the leased
grazing anyway. They'd just spend extra time there, to keep the best eye
they could on that part of our herd.
Each of us, including the kids, had a rifle in a saddle scabbard--except
mom, who rode English no matter what. Her rifle was an M-16 carbine that
hung muzzle down from a sling on her back. Uncomfortable, but that's the
way she insisted on doing it.
We started by making the kids familiar with the perimeter fence in their
sectors. Then we rode the borders of their allotted areas with them. For
most of us, the process took two full days. I took three. We also showed
them where horses liked to go and where the cows tended to congregate. And
we pointed out ambush and shooting points that covered those spots.
So far, our enemy had used a vehicle. Thus, we spent a lot of time
talking about possible vehicle routes in and out of the sectors.
We pointed out good places to camp, while emphasizing the importance of
keeping fires hidden. No one knew if this guy was around at night or not.
We all enjoyed the beauty of that part of Oregon.
Each team had a battery-powered radio. But the country was too rugged
for them to be of more than limited use. In emergency, they could
get to the highest place they could find and call the ranch. If we were
lucky, someone would hear.
~~ * * * * ~~
The next ten days were an idyllic vacation for the kids. The weather
was good and they enjoyed the new scenery--and the proximity of their friends. Understanding our problem, the teams all waited until after the
weekend to go to town. (The two whose were teamed with them
magnanimously waited until all the others had enjoyed a break.) One of the
boys, whose hadn't come along originally, brought her with him when he
came back. That was OK, we just sent the to ride with the other two
Then our enemy struck again. One of the teams heard shots and raced to
the top of a ridge overlooking the area the shots came from.
Below them, they saw a black GMC pickup, one of the big ones. A guy
wearing sunglasses was just getting into it. The vehicle moved slowly away
as they watched, rolling towards the county road, almost a mile away.
Being on top of the ridge, they called in with their radio. After
calling for about five minutes, Aunt Elin heard them and took their
message, including their location and the direction of the pickup.
Nobody was close enough to get to the place the pickup would reach the
road. We would have someone near our own driveway, though, to try to get a
plate number if he came out that way.
Grandma took her battered little Toyota, and pulled it around in our
ranch driveway entrance. Then she stood by the mailbox, as if she was
checking our mail. But no one came by except the mailman, so she came back
to the house. Two steers had been shot. It wasn't too great a loss,
as they were both 'culls' from our Angus breeding program. Even so, we
didn't welcome it. We were able to salvage the carcasses and they fed our
'kids patrol' some pretty good steaks most of the next month.
A week later, the kids in the adjoining sector heard shots one morning.
Coming down a dry wash, they came upon a guy with a rifle under his arm.
The in the team had her weapon up and ordered the guy to drop his
rifle. She had a downhill shot and wasn't sure what was beyond him. So
when he moved suddenly, she didn't shoot. That was costly.
The guy swung the rifle to his hip and shot twice. The first shot took
the in the leg. The second cut the air where her boyfriend had been a
The had sense enough to shuck his rifle from the scabbard and roll
off his when the first shot rang out.
He tried to hit the who'd shot his girl, but couldn't get a decent
shot at him. There was a lot of automatic fire returned at them. One of
their horses was killed. Wisely, both kids stayed down, not willing to
wade into it. When it was all over, the bound his girl's leg, helped
her onto the remaining horse, and led them to the top of the ridge, where
he called for help.
Dad and I--the whole family, really--were pretty pissed off. Sure we
lived in the west. But it was years ago that the last of the 'Wild West'
had vanished. We'd handled Schwartz, when he tried to ambush Audry and me.
Earlier, we'd handled Marston. But those were aberrations. That wasn't
supposed to be the way things were. Now we had another shooter, who
apparently targeted our ranch, and who didn't hesitate to shoot people.
This was the third one! It was just too damn much!
The sheriff agreed.
We stopped to see him after we dropped the at the hospital.
Fortunately, she would be fine. But her wound was painful, and would keep
her from riding much for several weeks--which was more painful to her and
to her boyfriend than anything else.
The only motive for the attacks, as far as we could see, was spite. The
three families who had attacked us before, because they saw us as
impediments to their social aspirations, were completely discredited and
too busy trying to salvage their financial status from the ruins to bother
us. None of this was logical. But terrorist acts seldom are. And that's
what this was; terrorist acts against our family.
Our sheriff requested assistance from other law enforcement agencies to
determine exactly where the three families were located. They all drew a
blank. As far as anyone could tell, they were all too busy trying to
rebuild their fortunes and restore their social standing to be concerned
with us. But they couldn't account for the Schwartz boys...
We knew all about one of them. His bones rested on a knob in the
national forest overlooking our ranch. We urgently requested information
about the other one.
John Schwartz was the outlaw of an outlaw family. Before he turned
sixteen, he'd gotten into it with his dad, who finally told him to either
do as he was told or get out. The kid got out; moving in with an uncle in
northern California. The uncle had a large vegetable farm, just south of
Redding. After three years, the kid had started to come on real hard to
his cousin, who'd just turned 13. His uncle told him to knock it off...
He refused, they argued, and he left again. This time for Colorado, where
he sold lift tickets at a ski resort.
He was always something of a loner, not by choice, but because he liked
to drink. When he did, he rapidly got really obnoxious. Sober, he had
opinions he held very strongly, even though his reasons were half-baked at
best and often inconsistent. Not a combination to make a big lout into a
popular guy. No one knew where he was.
We had a pretty good idea.
~~ * * * * * ~~
John Schwartz was really pissed off!
His latest had left town while he was at work, cleaning out the
cash he'd stashed in his spot in his closet.
It never occurred to him that it was because he'd beat the shit out of
her the night before, blacking both eyes and cracking a rib. She wasn't
the type to go to the law--she just cleaned him out and left town.
He had a payment due on his Jimmy truck. Well, it would be late. Tough
shit! What did the damn finance company expect? That he wouldn't eat?
His next day off was Tuesday. With Gloria gone, he might as well go up
to the hills and shoot another cow--maybe he could get one of those fancy
horses this time. Those assholes had fucked with his family. And they'd
been behind his brother's disappearance, too. They had it coming.
That little thought she had the drop on him last week. Shit! He
knew she was too hoity-toity to really shoot him. He hoped he'd drilled
her through the chest. She was too dumb to live and deserved what she got.
Her boyfriend--a worthless fuckin' Indian--had panicked and hadn't known
what to do. If he'd been on the ball, John would have been dead meat.
John laughed at the memory. The little shit had probably wet himself.
Feeling better, he threw a couple of blankets in his truck and called
the answering machine at work, to tell the boss he would be gone two days,
instead of the one he had off. The boss would be pissed but wouldn't fire
him--help was too hard to come by. He called in, didn't he?
John would drive out to the ranch, find a secluded spot to spend the
night, and see if he couldn't get himself a the next morning.
Everybody at the ranch was pretty pissed off, too. Gary and Mary and
another dozen adults and teens joined us. We were all patrolling
vigorously, loaded for bear. By then it was late in the summer and the
hands, with a couple of teens helping them, were rounding up the cattle, to
bring them back to the home ranch before deer season.
John found himself a narrow canyon in the side of a large hill that he
could drive right into, but that had some cottonwoods and aspen, and a
little creek. He pulled his pickup off to the side of the trail that led
into it and made a fire by the creek. He often slept in his truck, but it
was such a nice night, he'd just sleep on the soft flat dirt near the
During the night, he thought he heard the sound of horses. Maybe it was
In the morning, he climbed the side of the draw and looked around. In
the next little valley beyond the finger he was on was a horse, wandering
around, feeding on the grass. He looked around, but not up. He didn't see
anyone and thinking, 'This is too easy!' he shot the horse, then returned
to his camp. He didn't see two figures on horseback, on the mountainside
far above him. The two kids were amazed and sickened by what they saw.
The guy casually shot a horse, then strolled back to his camp. Looking at
the camp through their binoculars, they could see that he was a real slob.
His fire could easily have spread. And he just threw his trash wherever.
As they watched, he stretched out on his filthy blankets and went to
We got the radio call right away. I'd been out, helping the hands
gather the cows for the short drive to the ranch. Audry called me. "Rob.
I think the kids have found him."
I asked them for the location again, until I was certain I knew exactly
where they were. When I realized that he was camped right on the trail, I
grinned. It was not a friendly expression.
"What are you going to do, Rob?" Audry demanded, fairly urgently.
"Why, I'm just going to give him more cows than he can handle," I said.
Dad and Uncle Rick were called. They rapidly arranged the volunteers
along the sides of both fingers that bounded the little canyon our enemy
was sleeping in. They took the head of the draw, where the trail crested
out of it, themselves. With the hands and four of the teens--two of the
girls said they couldn't shoot anybody, but they wanted to participate--I
started moving the cattle from the leased range. In a couple of hours, we
had the herd well on its way. Just as I saw the mouth of the draw, Uncle
Rick called to tell me our guy was awake and moving.
We were a half-hour away with the herd.
John Schwartz was awakened from his nap by the sound of hooves again...
a lot of hooves. Sitting up, he couldn't hear anything and decided it was
He was too much of a city to understand how the ground carries sound
better than the air.
John thought it was time to see if any more of our stock was around to
be shot at. So he started to climb the other slope, to see what might be
on the opposite side of the other finger. When he was near the top of the
slope, a shot rang out, and the tree in front of him sent slivers flying.
Dropping, and slipping, cussing like a sailor the whole way, he rolled to
the bottom of the slope.
'Maybe it is time to get the hell out of here,' he thought. But when he
approached his pickup, two shots rang out. One destroyed his windshield
and the other blew out a front tire. Then another shot hit the dirt right
by his shoes.
He ran up the draw, by his fire. Alongside the open trail--that he was
too stupid to recognize as a trail--was a log. He lay down behind it, on
the side away from the shots--putting his body right in the trail.
When the lead cows, all full-grown Black Angus, were in the mouth of the
draw, we stampeded the herd. I hated to do it, since it would run off
several hundred dollars worth of meat, but it was worth the effort.
The herd bounded up the draw and stomped John pretty thoroughly, before
he could drag himself over the log that was 'shielding' him.
Right behind them with my cowboys, I was pleased to see that his rifle
was lying in the trail, broken. It was an AK, just like Gary said.
Dad called down from the ridgetop, when we pulled up by the pickup,
"He's behind that log, by his rifle. He's a polecat, so be careful with
Riding up to the log, five rifles leveled at it, I commanded him to come
out. "Can't," I heard from behind it.
"Do or die," I said, coldly.
"Can't. Legs busted."
"Crawl, fucker! If I don't see all of you, we start shooting into that
log until we've shot it to splinters."
With a groan, John heaved himself over the log. I'm surprised he could.
His legs were a pulverized mess. And he'd taken a few hooves in the ribs,
both back and front, too.
He just lay there and glared at us.
I put a couple of the kids to work changing the tire on his pickup.
"What's your name?" I demanded.
"Fuck you," he said.
I kicked him in a knee, the pain causing him to pass out. I had one of
the kids dump some water on him.
When he was awake again, I said, "What's your name?"
"I said: Fuck you."
He had more guts than sense... I guess we knew that. I calmly kicked
him again. In the ribs this time, where I'd break something, but not cause
him to pass out. I was wrong. He passed out. Ribs broke, though.
While he was out, I searched him. I took a large knife from his back,
between the shoulder blades. And another knife from his belt. His boots
were clean, and he didn't carry a handgun on him--there was a big .357
magnum revolver in his truck though. Looked like it had never been
His billfold gave his name--proving it was a thing.
Why those eastern assholes couldn't learn from their mistakes was beyond
We sent the kids off to round up the cows and shag them on to the
pasture. Two of our own hands went along to supervise them. Dad, Uncle
Rick and I stood over our captive.
"You know, Rick, there's nothing I hate worse than a who is such a
coward he only fights from ambush. Unless it's a who only ambushes
cattle... or girls."
"Know what you mean. We used to hang thieves. This guy is worse.
He stole 'em by shooting 'em... By my way of reckoning, that means
hangin's too good for him."
"Kinda thought that, myself, Rick. I sorta thought we'd maybe drag him
a ways, then just leave him."
"Drag him by the neck?" I asked. John's face, pale from his injuries,
"Not a bad idea. But this polecat ain't goin' nowhere."
"True. Do we just leave him?"
"Not a chance. He'd come back, if he survived. We'd best turn him over
to the sheriff."
Carefully, we made sure he had his billfold and keys. We did take his
knives, pistol, and rifle--wouldn't want him attacking our stock or hands.
Cheerfully, dad said, "Stay put, John Schwartz. We'll have the sheriff
out here to pick you up..."
"By the way," I told him, pointing, "your is on top of that
knob, two ridges over. He tried to shoot me. I shot better."
John's face turned white again. "You're not going to leave me here,
"Why not? We'll tell the sheriff where to find you."
What with one thing and another, it was three days before any of us
'remembered' to call the sheriff. John had managed to drag himself into
his truck. For some reason it wouldn't start. He didn't have the strength
to check under the hood, where the ignition wires were loose enough they
wouldn't make connections, but not so you could tell just looking at them.
The deputy drove him to the morgue in his own pickup.
We sued his estate for the value of the stock he'd killed. All we ever
got out of it was his pickup truck.
Mom's family, Virginia 'old money' patricians, made a point of having
their lawyer pass on to John's that we'd string up any Schwartz kin
on our place. We were really tired of fucking with them. They got kind of
excited and wanted to know about the younger son. The lawyer didn't know.
He only knew about his instructions to pass along the message that we were
through fucking with their family.
He did add that he would be passing the message to the Olsens, in
Chicago, too. Their friends in Virginia had disappeared.
* Cattleman's Woe is the fourth in the series of Audry stories. (c)
1997, 2001, Extar International, Ltd. All rights reserved. Single copies
for personal, non-commercial use may be downloaded or printed. Any other
uses, including reposting, or posting on an archive site, must have prior
permission from Extar International. Comments always welcome.